Kuntres Acharon, Essay One
The contents of this Kuntres Acharon al Kamah Perakim (“Later Booklet on Several Chapters”) are not near as homoeneous as one might expect.
The ninth printing of the Tanya, which included Iggeret HaKodesh and Kuntres Acharon for the second time, was introduced by an “Approbation of the ... sons of the illustrious author.” This Approbation describes Kuntres Acharon as a work based “on certain chapters, which he wrote when he composed the Sefer Likutei Amarim” (i.e., the first part of Tanya). It is described as consisting of “profound discussions and insights in passages in the Zohar, Etz Chayim and Pri Etz Chayim, which appear to contradict one another, and in his understanding spirit [the Alter Rebbe] resolves each passage according to its context as explained in Likutei Amarim.”
As the Rebbe notes, however, close to half of the essays printed in current editions under the heading of Kuntres Acharon, beginning with Essay 6, appear to be letters of the Alter Rebbe that are quite unconnected with matters discussed in Tanya, Zohar, Etz Chayim, etc., and hence, seemimgly out of place in Kuntres Acharon. And, indeed, when Iggeret HaKodesh and Kuntres Acharon were first included in Tanya (in the eighth edition; Koenigsburg, 1811), these essays were in fact not printed as part of Kuntres Acharon, but were grouped with Iggeret HaKodesh.
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The first essay of Kuntres Acharon answers two questions:
(a) How does a Jew become connected with Supernal Wisdom (Chochmah of Atzilut) by reading the narratives of the Torah?
(b) What is meant by the statement of the Zohar that “thought accomplishes nothing”? (I.e., that if one merely thinks about words of Torah but does not articulate them vocally, he does not effect an “arousal from below” that elicits an “arousal from above.”)
As to question (a): We can readily understand how when a Jew studies the reasoning and the laws of the Torah he is connected with Supernal Wisdom, for the Torah is “G-d’s Will and Wisdom.” But what of the narrative passages? True enough, in addition to their truth as narrative (for “A verse never departs from its plain meaning”), these passages of course simultaneously allude to spiritual truths in the higher worlds. But if a reader knows nothing of this beyond the simple story, how is he thereby connected with Supernal Wisdom?
The Alter Rebbe answers this query by quoting Sefer HaKavanot of the AriZal, who states that at the very same moment at which a Jew is engaged in Torah in this world, the “likeness” of Supernal Man above (the source of the soul of this Jew) is also engaged in Torah. The source of this individual’s soul is thus bound up with Supernal Wisdom.
Now, this applies when this individual merely meditates upon words of Torah, in silence. When, however, he actually verbalizes them, then the sound of these words pierces the heavens, and ascends to the spiritual level to which that sound is related, i.e., the level which matches the level of service of the person involved. If he is a tzaddik who, like a chariot, has no independent will but waits to be steered by its Rider, then the sound of his Torah study rises to the World of Atzilut (as explained in Tanya, ch. 39); if he serves G‑d with intellectually-generated love and awe, the sound of his Torah study rises to the World of Beriah; if his love and awe of G‑d are innate, the sound of his Torah study rises to the World of Yetzirah (as explained in Tanya, ch. 16).
As to question (b), regarding the inability of unvoiced thought (on words of Torah) to elicit an illumination from above, the Alter Rebbe will presently explain that it is nevertheless expressly thought that can elevate one’s Torah study and one’s performance of the commandments to the higher realms.
This, however, appears to be contradicted by a teaching in the Zohar, that the kind of “arousal from below” that draws down the reciprocal “arousal from above,” is effected specifically by “deed and speech,” as distinct from unvoiced thought.
The Alter Rebbe therefore clarifies: It is true that the Zohar here teaches that thought alone cannot draw down the flow of Divine light. That is why, even when one serves G‑d with love and fear through the spiritual toil of the soul, he will not have fulfilled his obligation to perform the accompanying mitzvah unless these spiritual emotions find simultaneous expression in actual deeds or words (cf. Tanya, ch. 35). For the soul descended into this world in order to draw down Divine light, and thereby to refine and rectify the body and the animal soul. (The Divine soul itself is by definition not in need of rectification.) And it is only through “deed and speech” — the actual performance of mitzvot or articulated Torah study, for “the movement of the lips is also a [minor] deed” — that one draws the Divine light down into this world.
However, when it comes to the separate task of elevating one’s Torah study and performance of the commandments, this is accomplished specifically by means of positive thoughts, which include one’s devout intent (kavanah), and one’s love and awe of G‑d.
Examine Likkutei Amarim, ch. 40
The Alter Rebbe explained in ch. 40 that the love and fear of G‑d are mere “wings”. Though wings enable a bird to fly aloft, they are not its essence. Indeed, even “if its wings were removed, [a bird] is kosher,” so long as its head and body are intact.
So, too, Supernal Unions (yichudim) are effected through Torah and mitzvot themselves. Love and awe, which are their wings, merely elevate the Torah and mitzvot to that spiritual level where a particular union is to take place. It is at that level that there is revealed within one’s Torah and mitzvot an infinite Divine illumination that cannot be revealed in this physical world.
Thus, on one hand we say that love and fear do not bring about a Supernal Union, for they are mere “thought” and intent. On the other hand, we also say that it is specifically through one’s intent that one’s Torah and mitzvot are elevated to a height they could never ascend to unaided; once there, they bring about a Supernal Union and its resultant diffusion of Divine light.
להבין איך הקורא בסיפורי מעשיות שבתורה, הוא מקושר בחכמה עילאה
To understand how a person reading narratives in the Torah becomes connected with Chochmah Ila’ah (“Supernal Wisdom”):
When a Jew studies Torah intellectually, it stands to reason that he is then bound up with Supernal Wisdom — the Sefirah of Chochmah (the loftiest Divine emanation) in the World of Atzilut — for Torah law is “G‑d’s Will and Wisdom”; the rationale underlying a law is G‑d’s wisdom, while the ruling itself is G‑d’s will.
This is explained in ch. 5 of Tanya: “It so arose in His will that if, for example, Reuven would claim thus and Shimon thus, such and such should be the verdict between them.” Even if this litigation should never come to pass, still it is G‑d’s will that in such an instance the verdict should be such and such — in accordance with His will. The very knowledge of the ruling thus makes one aware of G‑d’s will.
Suppose, however, that instead of studying legal issues one merely reads the narratives of the Torah. While it is true that these narratives allude to spiritual matters in the higher worlds, yet since he perceives nothing beneath their seemingly simplistic surface, how is he thereby connected with Supernal Wisdom?
When, for example, the Alter Rebbe looked at the verse, “And Jacob kissed Rachel and lifted up his eyes and wept,” he saw that Jacob, who represents the attribute of Mercy of Atzilut, arouses compassion from the Supernal Source of Mercy upon Rachel, who personifies Malchut of Atzilut, the fount of all souls.
However, when one is unaware of the inner meaning of this verse, and merely follows the simple story, how is he then bound to Supernal Wisdom?
על פי מה שכתוב בכוונות, דף ט״ז עמוד ב׳: כמו שהאדם עוסק למטה, כך דיוקן האדם העליון למעלה כו׳
[This matter may be understood] in the light of what is written in the Kavanot, p. 16b — that just as a man is engaged [in Torah study] below, so too is the likeness of the Supernal Man [engaged in Torah study] above.
As the Alter Rebbe will soon explain, this “likeness” refers to the source of a man’s soul, which is rooted in the Sefirot above. This is known as Supernal Man, for in the Kabbalah a complete configuration — a partzuf (lit., “visage”) of ten intellective and emotive Divine Sefirot — is referred to as a “Man”. Supernal Man occupies Himself in Torah above, at the same time that mortal man does so below. When one is engaged in Torah, be it even in the narratives of the Torah, he is thus connected with Supernal Wisdom, inasmuch as his “likeness” above is bound up with Supernal Wisdom.
According to this explanation, however, he is connected with Supernal Wisdom only by virtue of his connection with his likeness above, and not through his actual study. The Alter Rebbe therefore now goes on to state that this is so only when his study of the Written Torah remains in the realm of thought. If, instead, the individual verbalizes the words audibly, the very sound of his voice enables the letters here below to ascend even to the highest of levels, the World of Atzilut.
כן יש לומר, בהרהור באותיות הכתובות
This [vicarious connection] applies [only] when one is thinking about the written letters [of the Torah’s narratives].
אבל הדבור, יש לומר דבוקע וסליק לאצילות ממש
But as to articulated speech, we may say that it pierces and ascends to the actual [World of] Atzilut;
The Alter Rebbe here seeks to distinguish between “the actual World of Atzilut,” and the highest level (the “relative Atzilut”) within each of the lower worlds. As explained above, the uttered words of a consummate tzaddik — like the rest of his Torah and mitzvot — ascend to the actual World of Atzilut.
או לבריאה, בדחילו ורחימו שכליים
alternatively, [the articulated speech of one’s Torah study rises] to Beriah, the world of comprehension, when impelled by intellectually-generated love and fear (i.e., a love and fear of G‑d that result from comprehending Him);
או ליצירה, בדחילו ורחימו טבעיים
or else [this speech rises] to Yetzirah, the world of emotions, when motivated by the innate awe and love of G‑d that are the heritage of every Jew.
This refers to the level of “concealed love” (ahavah mesuteret) that also includes fear.
And through Scripture, i.e., when its words are merely uttered out of an acceptanc3e of G‑d’s yoke, without any of the above three levels of motivation,
סליק מעולם הזה ליו״ד ספירות דעשיה, משום דבקע אוירין וכו׳
[this speech] rises from This World to the Ten Sefirot of Asiyah, the level that relates to Torah and mitzvot that are performed merely out of acceptance of G‑d’s yoke, for “it pierces the atmospheres...” between physical and spiritual Asiyah.
מה שאין כן בהרהור, אלא הדיוקן, שהוא שרש נשמתו וכו׳
In contrast, one’s [unvoiced] thought [does not ascend to the higher worlds; it affects] only the “likeness” which is the source of his soul..., and which at that time is also engaged above in Torah, thereby connecting him with Supernal Wisdom.
ומה שכתוב בזהר, חלק ג׳ דף ק״ה, דהרהור לא עביד מידי כו׳
As to the statement in the Zohar, Vol. III, p. 105, that “thinking achieves nothing,...”
והיינו, אפילו לטב
i.e., not even a beneficial effect, if the “arousal from below” of deed or speech are lacking,
Speaking of thought, the Zohar there refers to improper thoughts that “achieve nothing.” For it is only when one actually speaks (and not merely thinks) of mundane matters on Shabbat that he causes a blemish in the spiritual realms, since his speech ascends aloft and introduces mundanity within the sanctity of Shabbat above. In the same way, the Alter Rebbe adds, thought alone — unless it is accompanied by words or deeds — has no positive effect above.
עיין שם, ובדף ל״א עמוד ב׳
examine closely there, as well as p. 31b.
For the Zohar says there that in order to receive the sanctity and joy of the Jewish festivals, there must first be an “arousal from below” through deed or speech. It then goes on to say that mundane talk during Shabbat will cause a blemish above, though not mundane thoughts.
We thus see that the Zohar is speaking of the inability of thought alone to produce either positive or negative effects.
The same is true of the statement in Zohar III, 31b, that a deed below inspires a deed above. A holy deed brings forth an arousal of holiness from above that descends upon the doer, while a deed stemming from impurity causes a spirit of impurity to descend upon him. The Zohar concludes there, that whatever depends upon action affects action, while whatever depends upon speech affects speech.
This, too, indicates that both a positive and a negative impact can be made only through action or speech, and not through disembodied thought alone.
Now, if thought alone “accomplishes nothing,” how does this square with the earlier statement that when one reads the narratives of the Torah, even if he does so only in his thought, he causes the “likeness” of Supernal Man to study Torah, and thereby the person involved is united with Supernal Wisdom?
The Alter Rebbe resolves this seeming contradiction as follows: The Zohar only means that thought has no effect in drawing down illumination from above: it is true that it is not an “arousal from below” that elicits an “arousal from above.” However, thought does have a vital effect above: one’s thought and intention are indispensable in elevating one’s Torah study and performance of the commandments, and in effecting the consequent Supernal Unions.
To return now to the above-quoted statement that “thinking accomplishes nothing”:
יש לומר דהיינו לאתערא לעילא, שיומשך משם לתתא
We may say, that this [disability] refers only to arousing a reaction Above, to call forth a downward flow [of Divine light];
רק מחשבתו נשארה שם
the thought that rises above simply remains there,
ומוסיפה שם אור גדול
greatly increasing the illumination there.
בתוספת וריבוי האור באצילות, על ידי מקרא ומצות מעשיות שבעשיה
[This] increased illumination in Atzilut is brought about through the verbal study of Scripture and the practice of active mitzvot in Asiyah,
שעיקר היחוד הוא למעלה
for the [consequent] Union takes place primarily above, within Atzilut.
רק הפירות בעולם הזה, על ידי המשכת אור מעט מזעיר למטה על ידי הדבור ומעשה
Only [its] fruits reach this world, through the illumination that is called forth in minute measure, here below, by speech and deed, that serve as an “arousal from below” to draw down the “arousal from above.”
מה שאין כן בהרהור, לא נמשך כלום
Through thinking [alone], however, nothing is called forth [below]: the above-mentioned increased illumination remains entirely above.
ולכן לא יצא ידי חבותו
Hence, if one merely thinks the words of the Shema and does not verbalize them vocally, he has not fulfilled his obligation
מה שירדה נשמתו לעולם הזה, רק להמשיך אורות עליונים למטה
for which his soul descended into This World: viz., only to draw supernal illuminations into the lower world.
כמו שכתוב בעץ חיים, שער כ״ו: להמשיך אור
In the words of Etz Chayim, Shaar 26, [the purpose of the soul’s descent is] “to call forth illumination.”
The G‑dly soul does not descend into this world for its own sake, for it is not in need of any rectification. Rather, it descends here in order to rectify and refine the body and the animal soul, by drawing supernal illumination down into this otherwise dark world.
אבל להעלות ממטה למעלה
But to elevate [one’s Torah and mitzvot] from below upward,
הוא דוקא על ידי מחשבה טובה
there must be “good thought” — the positive intent that stems from love and fear of G‑d,
דבלא דחילו ורחימו, לא פרחא לעילא
for without awe and love, [his divine service in Torah and mitzvot] does not fly upward.
וכמו שכתוב בשער הנבואה, פרק ב׳: והמחשבה טובה כו׳
As is stated in Shaar HaNevuah, sec. 2, “And the good thought [is that which raises Torah and mitzvot aloft].”
But here we appear to have a contradiction.
ומה שכתוב: דבקע רקיעין וכו׳
Now, we have an expression, quoted in the Zohar above, [that the sound of Torah study] “pierces firmaments...,”
והיינו, אפילו בלא דחילו ורחימו
and this is true even when [the sound of Torah study] is without awe and love,
במכל שכן מדברים בטלים
by a fortiori reasoning from the case of idle words,
If idle or mundane words spoken on the Sabbath ascend and cause a blemish above, surely holy words ascend, even when they are not accompanied by awe and love of G‑d.
דמדה טובה, מרובה
since “the measure of good is more generous [than its opposite].”
How are we to reconcile this with the statement that “without awe and love one’s [Torah study] does not fly upward”?
The Alter Rebbe now answers:
היינו, רקיעין דוקא, שהן ההיכלות והבתים
This refers only to “firmaments”, meaning the chambers and abodes, i.e., the external aspects of Supernal Man,
ולא בגוף האדם העליון
but not the “body” of Supernal Man.
I.e., if one’s Torah study is not propelled by a love and awe of G‑d, it does not ascend to the “body” of Supernal Man, which comprises the Ten Sefirot of the world involved.
וכל שכן בנפש רוח ונשמה
It certainly [does not ascend] to the Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah of Supernal Man, the light of Atzilut that illumines that world,
אפילו באדם דעשיה, שהן יו״ד ספירות, אורות וכלים
even not of the Supernal Man of Asiyah, meaning the Ten Sefirot, both its lights and vessels.
Without awe and love, one’s Torah study cannot ascend even to this level.
וזהו שכתוב בתקונים, דבלא דחילו ורחימו, לא יכלא לסלקא ולמיקם קדם ה׳ דוקא
This is the intention of the Tikkunim, that without fear and love it cannot ascend or stand before G‑d.
This means that it is capable of ascending to a higher world, but not before the G‑dliness of that world, i.e., the Sefirot of that world. In order for it to ascend there, there must be awe and love.